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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report of a Rescue Lifts Yukos

bloombergYukos chairman Viktor Gerashchenko
Yukos shares jumped 11 percent during trading Tuesday on reports that its key shareholder, Group Menatep, was ready to sell its 61 percent stake in the company to settle the oil major's multibillion dollar tax bill.

Yukos chairman Viktor Gerashchenko was reported as saying Monday that core shareholder Menatep could bail out Yukos.

"The problem can be solved if Menatep would sell its stake in the company," Gerashchenko told Izvestia on the sidelines of an investment conference in Hong Kong.

Yukos shares gained 7.98 percent on the MICEX, closing at 90.5 rubles, and closed 5 percent up on the RTS, at $3.15.

Menatep, however, distanced itself from Gerashchenko's comments.

"The board of directors has not informed Group Menatep about any possible deals or change in ownership. It's not clear whether Mr. Gerashchenko was talking on the basis of fact or whether he was on a frolic of his own," Menatep director Tim Osborne said by telephone Tuesday.

Shareholders may discuss a replacement for Gerashchenko at Yukos' extraordinary general meeting scheduled for January, he added. Gerashchenko was appointed board chairman in April.

Yukos itself gave Gerashchenko's statement a chilly reception, saying imprisoned former Yukos CEO and core shareholder Mikhail Khodorkovsky had already suggested selling his stock to save the battered oil major.

"This is essentially nothing new. Khodorkovsky talked about it" in the summer, Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin said Tuesday.

Khodorkovsky is on trial for massive fraud and tax evasion.

Yukos is facing crippling tax bills totaling more than $18.5 billion for 2000, 2001 and 2002, the company said Tuesday. The tax claims for 2001 and 2002 are greater than the company's revenues for those years, Yukos said.

Last week Yukos management called for an extraordinary shareholders meeting in December to decide whether the company should file for bankruptcy or restructure for the unlikely event of a last-minute compromise with the government.

Gerashchenko's remarks also came just days after Group Menatep announced that it had sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin, serving notice that the group could sue the government under the terms of the Energy Charter.

The charter is an international treaty aimed at protecting investors' interests, which Russia signed in 1994 but has not ratified.

Menatep threatened to seek compensation for multibillion dollar losses in Yukos capitalization resulting from the unrelenting legal campaign against the oil major.

It is widely believed that the Kremlin is aiming to separate Menatep, which is controlled by Khodorkovsky, from Yukos.

Despite the market's positive reaction to Gerashchenko's remarks, analysts remained skeptical.

"We don't treat these statements too seriously," said Valery Nesterov, oil and gas analyst with Troika Dialog.

A number of criteria must be satisfied for any sale of Menatep's stake, he said.

For one, the stake is currently frozen as part of the criminal investigation into Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev.

"With the stake frozen, any sale of shares controlled by Menatep must be approved by the authorities, and so far there is no sign of any kind of agreement on that front being reached," Nesterov said.

Only foreigners would be in a position to buy the share, he said, and it is unlikely the government would allow Yukos to fall into foreign hands.

"Gerashchenko's statement should be treated with a large dose of skepticism, in our view. Despite formally occupying the top post in the company, Gerashchenko is the very opposite of being a Menatep insider," United Financial Group wrote in its daily report Tuesday.

According to Izvestia, one of the potential buyers of the Menatep stake is Italian Prime Minister and Putin confidante Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi spokesman Marco Ventura was not available for comment on Tuesday evening.

E.ON chief executive Wulf Bernotat denied speculation that Europe's second-largest electricity utility plans to bid for Yuganskneftegaz, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing an interview in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

 Holders of Yukos bonds issued in 2002 have joined minority shareholders in a suit against the oil major's management and owners, Vedomosti reported Tuesday.

In July, a class action suit was filed in a Manhattan federal court charging that Yukos management last year deceived investors on the true state of the company.

Staff Writers Catherine Belton and Francesca Mereu contributed to this report.

Yukos Tax Charges in Billions of Dollars
Additional charges and taxes3.6436.7118.106
Total Tax Burden6.0969.48811.939
Total Tax Burden as % of revenues67%100%105%
Source: Yukos